Oh, how-the-times-they-are-a-changing!

Happy Tuesday, Scribe’s readers. PJ Sharon here, recalling how not so long ago, the idea of self-publishing was as taboo as wearing stripes and plaids together—a fashion statement to be strictly avoided. Today, it seems anything goes!

I was told I was crazy, that I shouldn’t do it, and that I was ruining my chances for a traditional publishing contract. These days self-publishing (preferably called Indie publishing to avoid confusion with Vanity publishing-an icky and antiquated model where authors pay exorbitant fees to shady publishers and get little in return for their investment), is just one more avenue for great writers to share their stories with the world. No longer considered a “last resort,” but now thought of as the “right path” for many writers for dozens of reasons, “Indie” publishing has become a buzz word that is changing the face of the publishing world forever! Can you say “print only contracts?”

Whether you do it to be more in control of covers, editing, and production schedules, or because your stories are awesomely written but are different enough that traditional publishers would never pick them up, or simply because 70% royalties sound a whole lot better to you than 10% or less, the bottom line is that it’s a viable career choice today.

What this means for readers:

1)      A variety of books to choose from that are often different than anything that NY has published before.

2)      Lower e-book prices and tons of free books to choose from.

3)      More personal interaction with authors since Indies have truly embraced social media as a way of connecting to readers. (Without “publisher” support, authors are more on our own than ever before, which goes for trad-pubbed authors as well).

What it means for writers:

1)      More freedom to write what we want to write and be in control of our product and our careers.

2)      The opportunity to set our own production schedules and write what is selling in the current market.

3)      Higher royalty rates but less distribution opportunities. Big publishers still have a major advantage here with both distribution and name recognition/legitimacy with retailers. Hopefully this will change over time as the industry evolves.

4) Realize that along with total control comes total responsibility, which can be overwhelming at times. For people like me who like to be their own boss, it’s really kind of awesome!

A perfect example of how quickly the field is growing and how the perception has changed is the RWA National conference I attended last week. Having Indie published my first title in 2011, I skipped last year’s national convention in Anaheim in part due to the fact that they had little to offer for Indie-pubbers. This year, there was an entire track devoted to everything from formatting to marketing your indie books. It included panel discussions and author chats with some fabulously successful Indie authors as well as focus sessions with all the major e-retailers.

I was amazed to see the shift. The energy and excitement were electrifying! I was also ecstatic to see that they opened up the RITA awards to Indie authors for next year. How cool is that? Obviously RWA was listening to our feedback. They may have been behind the fast moving curve, but they are working hard to catch up. Not that they have much choice, lest they risk being left behind by a good number of their members. Talk in the Indie camps the past year or so was that many were either jumping ship because the organization was treating them like the red-headed step child, or because successful trad-authors who had gotten the rights to all their back list of books were jumping on the Indie train in droves and RWA didn’t want to lose them. Wise decision on their part IMHO.

RWA (and most of NY) may be finally catching on and realizing that Indie is not synonymous with “inferior.” With the mega amounts of competition in this new market, Indie pubbers are quickly learning that quality products are key to selling successfully, and they are putting out some superior products–a reality gaining notice with agents and editors. There will always be the folks who upload an unedited, unprofessional, poorly written document that they (and their mom) think is the cat’s meow, but I believe that those will become fewer and farther between as the market continues to become more competitive.

Like any business, you have to be willing to invest in creating a quality product. Hiring cover artists (which I learned after a few missteps), editors, formatters, and even PR help might be what it takes for an Indie to stand out in the overcrowded book market of today, but there are so many opportunities for growth, it’s just crazy! From audio books to foreign translations, and the growing number of distribution channels offering pre-orders to getting our books into bookstores and libraries, Indies can now compete on equal footing with Big Six (or five) publishers. It means tons of work for the mom and pop publishers like me, but the sky is the limit! I suspect I’m one of the many Indies who are eking along at a crawl in terms of sales, but I can see a light down that long tunnel and I expect as with any new business, it could take me 3-5 years to see the financial success I’m working toward.

I’m still waiting for RWA to change their PAN (Published Authors Network) requirements for Indies, however, as this is still an inequitable measure of professional success and would exclude me from entering the RITA’s. As it stands now, traditionally published authors only need to earn $1000 to be eligible for PAN, while Indies need to earn $5000. Although I’ve earned out twice that amount and more on my first five titles, I haven’t quite earned it yet on one single title, which excludes me from eligibility. I’m oh, so close though!

I’m not saying that Indie publishing is right for everyone. It requires a lot of self-discipline, hard work, and some business savvy, but if you are sitting outside the traditional mold and thinking “I’ll never get published,” there is now another way. Do your homework, get educated about the process, and make the choice because it fits the career model you want. And if you still want a traditional contract, there is always the “Hybrid author” model. Like I said, the sky is the limit and it’s a brave new world in publishing. Be BOLD, and go after your dream, however and wherever the spirit leads you!

So what do you all think about this new publishing paradigm?

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30 thoughts on “Oh, how-the-times-they-are-a-changing!”

  1. I loved the new dynamic at RWA, too, PJ! It was so much more inclusive, which I attribute to RWA’s president, Sylvia Day, the self-pubbed phenom who just accepted a 7-figure deal from a traditional publisher after kicking butt with indie sales. Go, Sylvia! To me, the new dynamic makes traditional publishers a lot more interested in making their authors happy, and finding new authors. I wonder if success at self publishing is the new test… All that being said, I’m so glad to be traditionally published. My job is to write a good book, and I don’t have to worry about sales nearly as much as my SP colleagues, since I have a huge company behind me. They’ve done a great job. But it’s nice to know that there’s always the SP option out there. I have utmost respect for those of you who handle it all! As a reader, though, I still browse the shelves of a bookstore, rather than look online, since I prefer to read the old-fashioned way. That disparity still needs work; I hope bookstores are thinking about being more open to SP books.

    1. Thanks for your openness and a view from “the other side of the fence” Kristan. I too, love the feeling of inclusiveness that is developing on both sides of the publishing paradigm. It was so refreshing to hear the agents and editors I spoke with say how much they loved working with Indie authors and that they see their SP experience as an asset.

      I also continue to enjoy an occasional “lazy day” at BN, perusing the book shelves and hanging out with a good book in the cafe. There is nothing like the feel and smell of print on paper! I’m only saddened by the thought of bookstores dying out…and of course, not seeing my books on their shelves, LOL. I do hope there is a change coming soon in that direction. Thanks for chiming in!

  2. This is even more motivation from me to not only prep for self-pub, but to go to RWA in San Antonio next year. Thanks for this post, PJ. Your enthusiasm is obvious and really encouraging to those of us who consider themselves to be in the our “stories are awesomely written but are different enough that traditional publishers would never pick them up” camp.

    1. Hi Shawn, I was in that same camp a few years ago. I kept hearing the “it doesn’t quite fit the market,” feedback from agents and editors. I keep thinking that my next book will fall into the “perfect for the market” category, but somehow, I keep having story ideas that fall just outside of that picture, LOL. As much as I’d love to get picked up by some big name agent and publishing house with a fantastic advance and a fabulous contract, it seems I’m destined to keep writing the books of my heart:-) I’m just so glad that I now have the opportunity to share them with readers who love them. Keep your eyes on the prize, my dear!

  3. Paula, I too think you are a brave heart for the work and dedication of the SP. Your posts are always informative and bring out great comments from your followers.

  4. Indie publishing scares me but you make it seem obtainable, Thanks PJ. When I’m ready I’m going to pick your brain.. Watch out! lol

    1. I spent months researching and studying what others were doing before jumping in, Donna. Groups like Indie Romance Ink, Writers guide to e-publishing, and blogs from folks like Bob Mayer and David Gaughran were a wealth of information. It’s definitely a big undertaking but we aren’t in it alone, thank goodness.

  5. Great article. Going Indie is a hot topic right now. I didn’t know much about Indie authors until I attended UtopYa conference in Nashville this summer. It was an awesome experience. All the authors were friendly and willing to give advice to Newbies. If you haven’t been, tickets are on sale for next years conference.

  6. Courtney Milan’s workshop is so wonderful–my chapter hosted a skype chat a few weeks before nationals, she gave the same talk there, and everyone seemed to be buzzing about it afterward. I’m all about knowing options and I’m glad RWA is showing a fuller picture now, even if I am still shooting for traditional pub.

    1. Hi Stephanie. having more options has been good for traditional publishing whether they know it or not yet. I think they are opening the door to more writers than ever, hoping to keep the good ones from turning away from the trad model and missing out on those best sellers that have slipped through their grasp and gone onto SP success.

      Competition is a good thing. It forces doors open that might not be accessible otherwise and I think NY is being more open-minded about what is marketable to sell based on how well Indie books are doing in the e-book market. They would be foolish not to evolve their model and be open to new ideas. If you want to stand out in the crowd and get that contract, keep working at honing your craft and get serious about pitching and submitting your work. If it stands up to the competition, someone will scoop you up. I’ve seen a dozen of my chapter mates land contracts in the past year and I think this speaks to those doors being more open.

  7. Thanks for the excellent post, PJ. I was also tickled by the indie track at RWA this summer. I’ve signed up for an “explore indie” workshop in September. Seems it’s wise to keep my options open – even with requests, I want my options open…

    1. That seems to be the general theme I’m hearing from people, Susan. Having the freedom to make choices as a writer working towards publication is a whole new ballgame. Gone are the days when we were all forced to fight for that one in a million shot at having our stories in the hands of readers. It’s a good time to be a writer:-)

  8. Great post, PJ! I wish I’d gone to the RWA conference–I’m thrilled about the RITA being open to Indies! That’s a giant step to evening the playing field and legitimizing the Indie Option. You’re so right about the Indie Option forcing traditional publishers to treat their authors better–it’s all very exciting to me.
    But I’m like you–I love the whole Indie Entrepreneur life. It’s exciting and fulfilling and nothing I ever imagined for myself. Like a dream I never even thought to dream has come true!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and giving voice to the excitement so perfectly!

    1. Hi Stephanie. I’m so glad to hear you are enjoying the experience. There is definitely something very rewarding about steering your own ship. But lest we toot the indie horn and make people think it’s the “rosiest’ of options, I’ll admit that there are many days I wish I had an agent and editor doing some of the ground work. The price of being the “Captain” is pretty steep sometimes:-) Great to see you doing it so well!

  9. After being an RWA member for 20+ years I let my membership lapse in 2013. Why? I felt the organization was out of step with the times, and my decision did not come lightly. I’m thrilled to read things have changed. It may be time to re-join!

    1. Many Indie authors felt the same way, Anne. It was a frustrating wall to break through, but I’m glad the changes are coming along. Maybe more folks will decide it’s worth sticking with the organization. They really do have much to offer writers in general.

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